18 Mar 2016

Some Persons Are Not Persons?

(Text version of a talk given at the SPUC Youth Conference, 13th Mar 2016.)

Transgenderism and Abortion?

I would like to talk with you about transgenderism, also known as gender theory or gender ideology. More particularly, I would like to present an exercise in joining-the-dots, showing the link between a redefinition of legal marriage, back to transgenderism, all the way back to the legalization of abortion.

One of the reasons why I am so pleased and privileged to have been invited to talk at this conference is that SPUC is not so much an anti-abortion organization as it is a pro-life organization, with pro-life being an umbrella term incorporating abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and so on—all the myriad ways in which human dignity comes under attack. But is transgenderism something we should think of as belonging under the pro-life umbrella? Well, we cannot really be pro-life without being pro-family, and we cannot be pro-family without being pro-marriage. And we cannot be pro-marriage without recognising and respecting sexual difference and the extraordinary power which flows out from it.

Among other things, transgenderism says that a male can be a female and that a female can be a male. This makes it sound as though male and female are interchangeable. But it is worse than that, because there is a difference between interchangeable and identical. Think for instance of a man who owns a blue car and a red car. It does not matter which car he drives to work. They are interchangeable in that respect. But he cannot jump into his blue car and say “Look at me driving my red car”. His cars are not identical. When we say a male can be a female and a female can be a male, what we are actually saying is this: Males can be male or female, and females can be male or female; therefore males and females can be male or female; therefore everybody can be anybody; and therefore everybody has the same identity. Transgenderism says male and female are identical, not interchangeable.

And this is where the idea of so-called gender-neutral language comes from. Gender-neutral language is actually de-sexed language. If we recognise male and female to be different, we need two strands of language—we need husband, father, son and brother, and wife, mother, daughter and sister. But if males and females are identical we do not need the names male and female. We only need person, spouse, parent, child and sibling.

Transgenderism collapses sexual difference into ‘gender sameness’. Transgenderism attacks the family by attacking marriage by attacking sexual difference. So, we can see a clear link between marriage and transgenderism, meaning transgenderism definitely belongs under the pro-life umbrella. But is there a link between transgenderism and abortion? If we take any two subjects under the umbrella they might seem unconnected: Abortion and cloning? Transgenderism and euthanasia?

Transgenderism and abortion: Is there a link? I say there is. It is just that the link can be difficult to see. The reason for this is that the link is invisible, and it does not get much more difficult to see than that.

To come to ‘see’ the invisible thread linking marriage, transgenderism and abortion, we need to think about the nature of man-made law. And to help with this, here are two seemingly silly-sounding questions. The first is this: Where is man-made law? Not “Where is the library?” but “Where is man-made law?” To become aware of the answer, here is the second silly question. In France it takes one man and one woman to make a baby, and in England it also takes one man and one woman to make a baby. In France the right-hand side of the road is the right side to drive on. So why is it that in England the right-hand side of the road is the wrong side to drive on?

How come England and France are the same with regard to baby making but different with regard to car driving? The simple answer is that reality tells us making babies requires one man and one woman but does not tell us which side of the road is the right side to drive on. In reality, then, there is no wrong side to drive on. And yet if we nudge our steering wheel just a few inches our fellow motorists think of us as being on the wrong side of the road. So where does this ‘wrong side’ exist, if not in reality? It exists in our mind.

It exists in everybody’s mind and only in everybody’s mind. Man-made laws exist in the form of shared beliefs, or collective states of mind. And from this it follows that nothing is ‘legally physically impossible’. In fact we take advantage of the immateriality of man-made law all the time, by way of legal fictions. As an example, adoption: Adoption laws say “This man and this woman are this child’s legal parents despite not being this child’s natural parents.”

When we understand that man-made laws exist in the form of shared beliefs we can see what the whole ‘gay marriage’ thing was all about. It was about the relationship between names and definitions. The name Car cannot get us to work on time in the morning, whereas the thing ‘behind’ the name can. The name Marriage cannot found a family whereas a permanent and exclusive sexual union can. Here in reality a man and a woman can form a relationship which has the potential to unite generations. Can two women do that thing? No. Union requires difference, so sexual union requires sexual difference. If that thing is called Marriage, and if two women cannot do that thing, then two women cannot marry. The only place they can marry is in their minds…

Bearing in mind what we have learned about the immateriality of man-made law, we can see that if enough people were to come to believe that two women can marry, we might be able to bring our mistaken belief into law. But what would this mean? It would mean man-made law separating its use of a name (Marriage) from a definition (a permanent, exclusive sexual union). The name is retained but the definition is thrown away. The huge problem is that the definition describes something which physically exists and therefore continues to exist after the change in law.

Redefining legal marriage means changing the legal meaning of the name Marriage so that it no longer refers to the one relationship capable of uniting parent and child. Redefining legal marriage means entirely ejecting from law, in one fell swoop, the natural family unit. The Canadian Catholic theologian Douglas Farrow has written at length (here and here) about this hidden effect of redefining legal marriage, employing the term ‘de-naturalization’. I use the term ‘downgrade’. The family is de-naturalized in law, downgraded so that marriage itself is seen as existing only as a state of mind. Family itself is ‘captured’ by the State.

This effect can be crystalized into a neat slogan: Making legally possible the physically impossible makes legally impossible the physically possible. Put another way, when we try to bring the artificial into law and house it alongside the natural, we succeed only in ejecting the natural from law. And as this effect is true of marriage it must also be true of any instance wherein man-made law contradicts reality with regard to the nature of the human person. This brings us to transgenderism.

I am male. But somewhere in England there is a person of the female sex who is, like me, legally male. Without wishing to make any man here squirm in his seat, what does this tell us about my legal status as a male? It tells us the legal use of the names Male and Female has been separated from the definitions describing non-interchangeable sexed bodies. My sex has been downgraded in law; de-naturalized so that I am legally male only in the same way that a person of the female sex can be.

And I think this de-naturalized, de-sexed legal status has a name. I think this is what is meant by the phrase ‘gender identity’. On this model, our gender identity is our legal identity in the absence of all legal recognition of our sexual identity. My legal status as male is no longer a reflection of my sex and is instead my ‘gender’. The name Male has been retained in law, but the thing behind the name—a sexed body—has vanished. Again, when we make legally possible the physically impossible we make legally impossible the physically possible.

Now, is this principle applicable to abortion laws? I say it is. To see why this is so, we again need to separate the physical from the legal. Just as a physical act has a physical effect so too a legal Act (an Act of Parliament) has a legal effect. At the physical level an act of abortion takes the life of an innocent person living in the womb. What about the legal level though? What effect does an Abortion Act have?

An Abortion Act can be translated in two ways. I am not saying that one translation is right and the other is wrong. No, I am saying an Abortion Act has two effects. The first translation is the one which most people in the pro-life movement are familiar with: From now on you are permitted to take the life of your child with no legal repercussions. But the second translation is this: From now on some persons are not legal persons.

‘Some cars are not cars.’ ‘Some trees are not trees.’ Some persons are not persons? The second translation shows us that an Abortion Act gives the child in the womb legal permission to be a non-person. But this is physically impossible. And when we make legally possible the physically impossible we make legally impossible the physically possible. We have to conclude that an Abortion Act de-naturalizes personhood in law. Personhood itself has been legally downgraded.

This means, in effect, that we now have two ‘versions’ of Man—Natural Man and Legal Man. Natural Man is a person from conception. Natural Man is an embodied person existing in the form of one of two sexes. And by virtue of being sexed Natural Man has family bonds. Legal Man is not a person from conception. And by virtue of not being a legal reflection of the natural thing, Legal Man is not sexed, so has no family bonds. Legal Man has a gender, is a ‘pure individual’ and is forced to invent his own identity.

To bring all these ideas together by way of an analogy, let’s picture ourselves standing in front of a full-length mirror. For as long as the mirror is clean, flat and free of cracks, it will reflect our image accurately. Our face will look as it really looks, as will our hands and so on. But suppose instead the mirror is warped. This mirror warps our face, our hands…Every part of our reflection is distorted by the warped mirror. When man-made law recognises and respects the fact that each and every one of us is a human person from conception then the mirror of law gives an accurate picture. Accordingly, it can accurately reflect all other aspects of being a human person, such as our embodiment as males or females.

What I am strongly suggesting is that an Abortion Act warps man-made law’s understanding of the human person at such a fundamental level—personhood—that all other aspects of being a human person are distorted too, up to and including our sex. Nothing true about Natural Man is being reflected by law. I believe transgenderism is an entirely made-up thing; a legal invention caused by, of all things, abortion laws. And if this is true then transgenderism represents a brand new reason to be against abortion, and a brand new reason to be pro-life.